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Alaskan Inspiration

I know, you think I forgot to draw the cockpit. The client didn’t want one—and with good reason.

In my college years, I worked summers for a tugboat company in Southeast Alaska. I loved the work and loved Alaska even more. My memories of those times are cherished.

Several months ago, I was on the phone with a prospective design customer. His last name was familiar, and he described deep Alaskan roots to his younger life. It was the spelling of the last name that triggered my memory bank; I tried hard to focus, instead of thinking he might be a son or grandson of my old tug boss.

But the truth was revealed when he mentioned that he wanted a shorter version of his dad’s boat, the Air Snipe.

I was very familiar with the Air Snipe. It’s a sleek sub--chaser of Sparkman & Stephens design, built in the early years of World War II. I had spent many hours at the company docks in Alaska looking at her features and lines.

Some 50 years later, I was completely amazed that I was doing a design for the son of my old boss.

My tug boss from Alaska in the early 1970s, Kent Halvorsen.  

My tug boss from Alaska in the early 1970s, Kent Halvorsen.  

The new design was to be a shortened version of the original Air Snipe, which was something like 110 feet long and carried a beam of just under 18 feet. The original only needed to cleave the water, with her narrow beam allowing her to move without extraneous bow waves or wakes. She slid along doing her duty for God and country, and was a splendid expression of the craft of naval architecture.

I must admit, I was a bit apprehensive about trying to accomplish what took 110 feet with almost one-third the length while still evoking some of the older design’s essence.

So, into the project I launched, and an interesting design specification was proposed. I suppose hearkening back to the client’s roots in Southeast Alaska and its notorious reputation for wet and cold weather, he made no provision for a cockpit in the new design.

I was at first put off by the lack of a cockpit or access to the after end of the boat, but then I reminded myself from my own experience in Alaska that there were months at a time when we never failed to put on a long-sleeve shirt and a jacket. The weather can be stunningly bright and sunny in Alaska, but those are rare days. The more normal days would be cloudy, rainy and brisk. Using the cockpit is not the rule in Alaska. Comfortable accommodations are a better option. If the weather is nice, then towing a proper fishing boat is more practical.

Thus, the full length of this design is devoted to accommodations, and the primary emphasis is to let daily tasks be completed from the pilothouse. Doors to port and starboard allow quick access to the deck. Forward of the pilothouse is a sleeping cabin with staggered over-under berths to port and starboard. This cabin has its own head compartment forward, and allows some privacy for guests. To port is a separate shower compartment.

Air Snipe, the original version, exercising all 110 feet of her glory—a worthy model for our new design, Air Snipe Too.

Air Snipe, the original version, exercising all 110 feet of her glory—a worthy model for our new design, Air Snipe Too.

Abaft the pilothouse and down a few steps to starboard is a cabin with an entrance to the engine room at its forward end. There’s a head aft on the starboard side, and a separate shower room en suite. To port is a walk-in closet abaft a queen-size athwartships berth. This arrangement not only allows ease of getting in and out of bed, but also eases making up the bedding. The engine room is forward of this stern cabin and is spacious for a boat of this size, with a workbench for tools and good access around the engine. Primary propulsion is by way of a medium- or heavy-duty diesel engine of good weight and torque, generating a maximum of 2,400 rpm. Using a 3:1 gear ratio, a larger-diameter propeller can be fit on her. Loafing along at something like 1,800 rpm, a speed of 8-plus knots can be approached economically and quietly.

I wanted to ask my customer about a bow thruster, but knowing his extensive experience as a harbor pilot, I was reluctant. When we finally discussed the matter, his answer was, “Why not? I want as many controls over my environment as I can manage.”

So, here you have a very different design from my drafting table. It’s mostly accommodations with good performance and a reasonable fuel burn. A comfortable sea boat, she is a completely flush-deck design suitable for exploring Alaskan waters for many happy years.

I have been self-employed for some 44 years now, and I don’t think my former employer or I had imaginations so wild that we could have anticipated I would someday design a boat for his son. Life showed me once again how much of a circle it truly can be.

Air Snipe Too

LOA: 45ft. 10in.
LOA: 43ft. 4in.
Beam: 13ft. 10in.
Draft: 4ft. 7in.
Displacement: 30,000 lbs.
Power: 230- to 330-hp
John Deere 6068AFM85

Sam Devlin has run his boatbuilding and design business, Devlin Designing Boat Builders, for 43 years. An active proponent of wood/epoxy boats throughout his career, Sam is the author of the 1997 best seller Devlin’s Boat Building on the stitch-and-glue method.